'Miracle on South Division Street' earns laughs at Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

  • Buffalo Theatre Ensemble presents "Miracle on South Division Street," a drama by Tom Dudzick about miracles and identity.

    Buffalo Theatre Ensemble presents "Miracle on South Division Street," a drama by Tom Dudzick about miracles and identity. Courtesy of Rex Howard Photography

  • Clara (Millie Hurley), left, shows her children Ruth (Rebecca Cox) and Jimmy (Nick DuFloth) a letter she wrote to the Pope decades earlier in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of "Miracle on South Division Street."

    Clara (Millie Hurley), left, shows her children Ruth (Rebecca Cox) and Jimmy (Nick DuFloth) a letter she wrote to the Pope decades earlier in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's production of "Miracle on South Division Street." Courtesy of Rex Howard Photography

  • Oldest daughter Beverly (Kelli Walker), downstage, hopes for a bowling miracle in the family dramedy "Miracle on South Division Street." Rebecca Cox, left, Nick DuFloth, Millie Hurley and Walker star in the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble production.

    Oldest daughter Beverly (Kelli Walker), downstage, hopes for a bowling miracle in the family dramedy "Miracle on South Division Street." Rebecca Cox, left, Nick DuFloth, Millie Hurley and Walker star in the Buffalo Theatre Ensemble production. Courtesy of Rex Howard Photography

  • A Buffalo, New York family -- daughter Ruth (Rebecca Cox), left, mom Clara (Millie Hurley) and son Jimmy (Nick DuFloth) -- maintain the miracle that occurred years earlier in Tom Dudzick's family dramedy "Miracle on South Division Street," running through June 2 at Buffalo Theatre Ensemble.

    A Buffalo, New York family -- daughter Ruth (Rebecca Cox), left, mom Clara (Millie Hurley) and son Jimmy (Nick DuFloth) -- maintain the miracle that occurred years earlier in Tom Dudzick's family dramedy "Miracle on South Division Street," running through June 2 at Buffalo Theatre Ensemble. Courtesy of Rex Howard Photography

  • Lucy (Rebecca Cox), left, talks with a director interested in staging her one-woman show while her family (Kelli Walker, left, Millie Hurley and Nick DuFloth) look on in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's "Miracle on South Division Street."

    Lucy (Rebecca Cox), left, talks with a director interested in staging her one-woman show while her family (Kelli Walker, left, Millie Hurley and Nick DuFloth) look on in Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's "Miracle on South Division Street." Courtesy of Rex Howard Photography

 
 

"Miracle on South Division Street" -- ★ ★

Buffalo Theatre Ensemble knows what audiences like, and it delivers.

Case in point: Tom Dudzick's "Miracle on South Division Street," whose Sunday matinee drew hearty laughs from the sizable McAninch Arts Center crowd.

Not bad for a modest, kitchen sink comedy with a title that refers to a Buffalo, New York, locale and not the east-west thoroughfare on Chicago's northwest side. Heavy on nostalgia and light on substance, "Miracle on South Division Street" is a gentle dramedy about members of a Polish-Catholic family who begin to question their identity after a little digging upends everything they've been led to believe.

It's set in 2010 in a crumbling neighborhood where longtime mom-and-pop businesses have fallen victim to the recession. Remaining residents include widow Clara Nowak and her three kids, who together maintain a life-size shrine to the Virgin Mary that was built in 1943 by Clara's immigrant father.

Clara (an affectionately irascible Millie Hurley) lives behind the barbershop where Jesus' mother appeared to her father to deliver a message of world peace. The shop is now a soup kitchen, but Clara still tends to the shrine and insists her kids do the same, lest the miracle bestowed upon their family dies.

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Oldest daughter Beverly (Kelli Walker, an energizing force) shares her mother's enthusiasm, unlike her less passionate siblings. The youngest, easygoing Jimmy (Nick DuFloth), is ambivalent. So is middle-daughter Ruth (Rebecca Cox), an aspiring actress whose faith seems to be wavering if her sporadic attendance at mass is any indication.

Exposition takes up much of the first act, which involves Ruth's preparation for a meeting where she reveals her intention to create a one-woman show inspired by the family miracle. Only, the truth she's unearthed differs markedly from what family members have told themselves and the faithful who've made pilgrimages to the Division Street Madonna over the decades.

Not surprisingly, Ruth's revelations cause the Nowaks to question not just the family legacy, but their own faith and identity as well.

Dudzick's sitcom-inspired "Miracle" doesn't examine those issues with any profundity. This is a skin-deep dramedy.

Nevertheless, director Steve Scott's production is pleasant and well-paced. It boasts affable cast members whose nicely understated comic flair suits the material. Hurley's Clara and the banter and the physical exchanges between DuFloth's Jimmy and Walker's Beverly feel especially authentic.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• • •

Location: Buffalo Theatre Ensemble at the McAninch Arts Center, College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn, (630) 942-4000 or atthemac.org or btechicago.com

Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through June 2

Tickets: $40

Running time: About 80 minutes, no intermission

Parking: Free parking in lot adjacent to McAninch Arts Center

Rating: For teens and older

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